The attacks on March 11, 2004,  killed 191 people and left 1,800 injured [AFP]

Twenty-one defendants have been found guilty by a Spanish court of involvement in a series of train bombings in Madrid in 2004 which killed 191 people, with seven others acquitted of all charges.

Jamal Zougam, a Moroccan national, was sentenced to more than 40,000 years in prison by Judge Javier Gomez Bermudez, although under Spanish law he can only serve a maximum of 40 years.

Emilio Suarez Trashorras, a Spaniard, was found guilty of supplying explosives and was also sentenced to thousands of years in jail.

Among those acquitted of any involvement in the bombings included Rabei Osman Sayed Ahmed, known as "Mohamed the Egyptian".

Ahmed had already been jailed in Italy after he was convicted of belonging to an international terrorist group.

Compensation award

Judge Bermudez also awarded compensation ranging from $43,340 to $2.17m for victims of the train bombings.

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How Madrid is still coming to terms with the attacks

Ten bombs triggered by mobile phones concealed in bags destroyed four trains packed with commuters in the Spanish capital on March 11, 2004.

The attacks were initially blamed by the then government on Basque separatists before evidence suggested it could have been an al-Qaeda-inspired attack.

Occurring just days before a general election, the public outrage resulted in the conservative government being voted from office, despite pre-election predictions of victory.

Twenty-nine people, mostly Moroccans and Spaniards, have been tried for crimes ranging from masterminding the attack to stealing dynamite from a mine in northern Spain. One has since been cleared.

Political consequences

All suspects denied the charges against them, and most are expected to appeal against their sentences.

Seven suspected ringleaders in the case blew themselves up as police prepared to raid a flat in Madrid's suburbs about three weeks after the attacks, and most of those left to stand trial were considered secondary figures.

A two-year investigation concluded that the group was inspired by al-Qaeda, but had no direct links to it, nor did it receive financing from Osama bin Laden's organisation, Spanish investigators say.

The attacks caused huge anger in Spanish society and had wide-ranging political consequences.

In elections three days after the blasts, voters elected the opposition Socialists and ousted removed a government that had sent 1,300 peacekeepers to Iraq.

Many Spaniards blamed that administration for the attack, saying it had made the country a target by supporting the Iraq war.

The Socialists quickly withdrew the soldiers from Iraq.

Electoral role

The trial proved equally divisive.

The 28 defendants are accused
of a wide range of crimes [AFP]
The conservative opposition used it to advance several theories, including unsubstantiated allegations that Basque separatists were involved, or that members of the Socialist party somehow knew about it beforehand.

Most of the conspiracy theories were ruled out by the court, with a conservative politician who was Spain's police chief at the time of the attacks fined and threatened with jail for refusing to name his source when he testified that an internal police document linked ETA with the blasts.

Jose Luis Zapatero, the Spanish prime minister, said he hoped the verdict would "give a definitive answer to those who have put forth absurd and despicable doubts about March 11".

He asked both political parties to support the ruling and put the acrimony behind them.

That call was unlikely to be heeded, however, particularly as national elections are due next March.

Angel Acebes, a senior member of the opposition Popular party, on Monday accused the government of preparing to use the verdict to attack the conservatives.

"We have never used a terrorist attack for electoral gains," he said.

He said the Socialist party "has done that and continues doing it," -  a reference to Zapatero's victory after the March 11 attacks.

Source: Agencies